Here’s a conundrum. Visit silviatrosantafe.com and you will promptly be greeted by selections from Spanish Heroines, wherein Signum first paired the conductor Julian Reynolds and the Orquestra Sinfónica de Navarra with this Valencia-born singer: a meltingly heartfelt ‘Pleurez, pleurez mes yeux’ (Le Cid), and impassioned, nuanced ‘Mi Tradi’, and a simply ripping ‘O don fatal’, put across con slancio. Their new recital of classic Rossini showpieces for mezzo, in trousers and out, is enhanced by able supplementary singers, the spirited Lluís vich Vocalis (also from Valencia), and Tim Coleman’s informed contextual notes, providing every promise of pleasure.
For this voice is one fine instrument, at times as luxuriant as rippling grey silk, at others glinting like flexible metal, always thoroughly enjoyable as pure sound. The technique features solid pitch, apt phrasing, good legato, brave fioriture, and a hairpin ‘shake’. Thanks to clear-cut diction, you could transcribe the texts. So why does this able and seasoned performed sing all these selections with so little dramatic involvement? Sorte, in the Italian Girl’s introductory aria, does not sound at all cruda; were Isabella depending on ‘Pensa al apatria’ to rouse her countryman to her rescue, she had best resign herself to life with Mustafa. The accompaniments are supportive, the men’s chorus enthusiastic, the recording quite lifelike. Yet every character, female or make, sounds as detached and placid as every other—especially when contrasted against the considerable competition. This Cenerentola’s infections revelry, ‘Non piú mesta’, sounds stoical; think (though each listener will cite different benchmarks) of Bartoli, or DiDonata. As for Tancredi, or Malcolm from La donna del lago, Marilyn Horne at once comes unfairly to mind, insisting that these are living, suffering individuals. By the final number, the sole rarity—Arsace greeting the Babylon ruled by Semiramide, whom he does not know is his mother—vocal decorum triumphed expressiveness.
Where’s the verbal pointing and emotional coloration that inspirits her Eboli, her Donna Elvira, her Chiméme? Production photos show that this versatile mezzo possesses physical presence, strong features, sparkling hazel eyes, and a mischievous mouth; why don’t we hear those properties in her Rossini, recording in January 2009? Is she more a stage animal, whose instincts spring to life best before an audience? That’s the sizzling impression left by her bravura Handel—whether as Amastre in Les Arts Florissant’s live Serse or, again on her website, as Ruggiero in ‘Sta nell’ Ircana piestrosa tana’ from Alcina with Las Talens Lyriques? Her distinctive timbre is memorable and engaging, as is her temperament, once unleashed. Seek out her earlier disc (I intend to), or watch for Silvia Tro Santafé’s debut in a leading role on DVD. That should solve the conundrum.